When you start making your own food from scratch, especially stuff like bread and mayonnaise, you take a whole lot of pride in what you've accomplished. But it wears off. Eventually baking your own bread doesn't feel so special anymore; it's just a regular part of your week. And once you get the hang of making mayo, you kind of feel like, "Hey, no big."
So far I haven't reached that point with making jam. (And I hope I never do.) Here I am, glowing with pride while eight jars of gorgeous jam cool in the kitchen (plus a little extra insufficient to fill a jar). I decided to call it strawberry-lemonade jam because I love strawberry lemonade (and I thought it sounded good), but really it's strawberry jam flavored with lemon zest, lemon juice, and a hint of lemon verbena to cut the sweetness. It's delicious. And I was able to keep the color of the strawberries--a first in jam making for me. So I am a little puffed up. Let me enjoy my moment of glory. Wait, I have to run to the kitchen and get a spoonful from the partial jar...
Man that's good. Sorry, I'm back. That was wonderful. I am going to tell you how to make the deliciousness yourself in a moment, but first a few tips for making jam:
- Get the very best berries you can find and preferably ones that haven't been sprayed. I got mine from Reid's Orchard because their berries are extraordinarily good, and they practice integrated pest management, which means they rarely spray their fruits.
- Jam is not an excuse for using less-than-perfect berries. If you've got ugly berries, trim the ugly parts and try making saft (a Swedish fruit syrup that's delicious as a refreshing drink when mixed with water or you could also pour a little over ice cream). Or bake something with them.
- Get everything ready before you start cooking the jam, because once you start you will not be able to leave the stove for more than a minute or two. (Lot of hovering over the stove involved in making jam.) So that means wash and sterilize all your jars, juice and zest your lemons, wash the verbena stems, place a plate with five metal spoons in the freezer for testing, and have a ladle and a funnel ready to go.
- Be careful. Making jam is an activity not dissimilar to making candy. That means temperatures get very high, boiling can get violent, and the jam can overflow. Also, it can spatter and burn, so take care. Maybe wear an oven mitt while you stir. Or cast caution to the wind and gain some badges of honor (I got one on my wrist today).
- Don't start making jam unless you have at least 45 solid minutes to devote completely to the task. You can't really start and stop, and you have to be present at the stove through nearly the entire cook time.
- 4 lbs hulled strawberries (keep them whole unless they are huge)
- 2 lbs 10 oz sugar
- juice from four lemons (between 5 and 6 ounces, divided)*
- zest from two lemons (finely chopped or grated)
- 1 large branch of lemon verbena (optional, but nice)
- 1 white plate with 5 metal spoons, placed in the freezer to prep them for testing
- 1 deep thick-bottomed pot that's from 8 inches in diameter (up to 11 or 12) (if you don't have a jam pan,** a stock pot will work just fine)
- 1 silicone spatula
- 1 skimmer, placed in a bowl of cold water
- 1 ladle
- 1 wide-mouth funnel (you'll usually find these wherever you find canning supplies)
- 9 clean 8-ounce jars with banded lids, washed, sterilized, and kept hot
- Any equipment you are using to process the jars (pot with rack, baking sheet and rack, etc.). For information about processing jams (and any canned good) safely, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
OK, now that you have assembled everything you need, let's get started:
- Combine strawberries, sugar, and half of the lemon juice in a pot. Stirring steadily with the silicone spatula, slowly heat the mass. When the berries release a lot of liquid and the berry-sugar mass becomes more liquid, raise the heat slowly to high and bring the mass to a rolling boil.
- Maintain the berry-sugar mix at a high boil for about 25 minutes, stirring once a minute or so, making sure to scrape the bottom with the spatula. If the mass starts to stick to the bottom, lower the heat a bit. Using a skimmer, skim the scum off the top for the first 10 minutes. As you will be standing here for a while watching the mass boil, you will no doubt notice some changes in the jam: First, it will boil up very high, possibly threatening to boil over. Usually consistent stirring will help keep that from happening, but it doesn't always work. Adjust the heat up and down as you work to maintain a strong boil, while avoiding losing half your jam in a sticky, possibly painful, disaster.
- At about the 25-minute mark, the jam will change color, growing darker and glossier, and production of foam will decrease. (Before this, you will notice the jam feeling thicker and the intensity of the boiling increasing.) Mix in the second half of the lemon juice and the lemon zest. (Take the pot off the heating element when you do this to avoid scorching.) Bring the jam back to a high boil for 5 minutes.
- After the 5 minutes, take the pot off the heat and add the sprig of lemon verbena to let it steep while you test the jam. To test the jam, place a small amount of jam liquid on a frozen spoon and return it to the freezer for 3-4 minutes. When you take the spoon out, feel the bottom of the spoon, it shouldn't feel hot or cold. If that's the case, tip the spoon to let the liquid run. If it runs slowly and sort of gums up a bit, the jam is done. If it runs fast, let the jam cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and test it again.
- If the jam was done on your first try, let the lemon verbena steep for another 5 to 10 minutes. Before you put the jam into the jars, remove the lemon verbena and toss it.
- Using the ladle, pour the jam into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch room at the top of the jar. You will get 7 to 9 8-ounce jars of jam.
- Process the jars as directed. Except maybe one that you set aside to "test" for flavor to make sure it's OK. Make sure to refrigerate any open jars.
- Enjoy it. It should be good for 6 to 8 months if the jars form a proper seal and are kept in a cool, dark place. Make sure to check each jar carefully when you open it. If the seal doesn't pop, or if anything seems off or weird in any way (color, smell, rusty lids, etc.), just get rid of it. Better to lose a jar than to get sick.
** If anyone feels like getting me a jam pan for Christmas, or for any other reason, I would not mind. No really. I wouldn't.